Snapping up sights for them, not you

The Baltimore Sun

To me, there's nothing more relaxing than hitting the road and visiting a world-famous scenic attraction - until someone you don't know suddenly thrusts his camera in your hands and asks you to take a picture.

This happened about a dozen times to my wife and me on a recent trip to Niagara Falls.

"How was the Falls?" people asked when we got back.

I said we weren't sure because we spent most of the time taking pictures for other people.

On the day we visited, the place was packed with tourists from all over the world: England, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, you name it.

Which only ratchets up the pressure vis-a-vis picture-taking for strangers.

Here you have some nice family from, say, South Korea taking the trip of a lifetime and they're handing their camera to some fat guy they don't know and asking him to take a picture that will be one of the glowing mementos of their trip. Something they'll show off to friends and family for years.

You don't think that's pressure? Trying not to screw up a foreign visitor's precious vacation photos?

I try to do the best I can when people ask me to take their picture, but sometimes it's hard. Some people just hand you their camera and assume you know how it works.

That's fine if it's a simple digital camera. But one family at the Falls handed me their fancy Nikon camera with a huge lens that looked like something you'd use if you were shooting the Falls from, say, Oregon.

The camera itself looked like something you'd carry on assignment for National Geographic.

"Oh, you just do this, and then this and this and this," the dad said when I asked exactly how to take a picture with the thing.

Then he added another half-dozen steps to the whole process. They shot Lawrence of Arabia in less time than it took to explain how to use this camera.

Some people push things by asking you to take multiple shots of them in different poses.

Me, I'm OK with taking one picture for you. And maybe another as a back-up, in case I screw up the first shot, which is a very real possibility.

But three, four and five shots? What are we doing here, shooting your wedding?

Then there are those people who get irritated when their camera doesn't work properly - only they get irritated at you.

This happened to us at the Falls when a couple who said they were from California asked me to take their picture.

They wanted a shot of the two of them holding hands and staring at each other with the Falls in the background.

Fine, whatever.

So they get in this goofy pose, and I give them the standard "1-2-3" countdown and push the button.

Except nothing happens. Nothing clicks, nothing whirrs, no indicator lights flash.

At this point, I am about to point out that their wildly expensive, state-of-the-art Nikon camera is not working, and that it's not me who broke it, so don't even think about trying to sue me, because I am lawyered-up real good.

Except the couple doesn't seem to know there's a problem. They're still holding hands and staring at each other with these smoldering Motel 6 eyes.

So I try pushing the button again.

Still nothing.

No click, no whirr, nada.

Now the couple realizes there's a problem.

"Why didn't it click?" the guy asks in this ticked-off tone.

What do you say to something like that?

How should I know why it didn't click? It's your camera, pal.

So now I give him his camera back, and the three of us are hovering over it, trying to figure out why it didn't click.

This is just what you want to be doing at a world-famous scenic attraction - trying to figure out what's wrong with the camera of a total stranger.

Finally his girlfriend hit a switch and something inside the camera began to whirr.

"Oh, look!" she said. "We didn't have it turned on!"

Then they both flashed a sheepish grin and handed the camera back to me, and Round 2 of the endless photo shoot began.

I think I got another look or two at the Falls before we had to leave.

They say it's really beautiful this time of year.

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